On family: coincidence or connection?

It would be fair to say, I am not one for flights of fancy. I will always look for the rational explanation for supposedly ‘spooky’ occurrences. The mind is not the objective tape recorder, many believe it to be, rather it is easily tricked and distorted (see experiments by Elizabeth Loftus on planting false memories) and it often trips over itself, for example deja vu and tip of the tongue syndrome.

Take the ghost on the staircase…

ghost on staircase

… this is a result of the mind’s acute sensitivity to the human form and our evolutionary imperative to survive  – better to see an enemy that isn’t really there, than to not see one that is.

I do admit to a softening of my stance since my sister died. They are things she experienced in her final weeks that I have trouble explaining away or putting down to the opiates. The little black cat is one. A friend mentioned that my sister kept seeing a little black cat skulking around the room. At the time I dismissed it as a waking dream brought about by the pain medication, but it wasn’t until after she died I discovered the only time my sister saw ‘the little black cat’ was when this particular friend was present – and that this friend had a black kitten as a child, which died, leaving her devastated. My sister also saw an old man coming in and out of the bathroom in her room at the hospice. She said he looked agitated, like he needed to wee but couldn’t. She would get very cross with him and tell him to find his own room.

Do I dismiss my sister’s observations as hallucinations? Or accept that in her altered state, she was able to see planes of existence the rest of us couldn’t?

Bank holiday monday, just gone, was one of those ‘spooky’ coincidences, where two or more events occurred together that do not appear to be causally related. But then why is the idea that the events happened by chance any more plausible than the idea that they are infact connected by waves of seriality (unknown forces), which carry meaning to the person experiencing them. (Wiki link)

The day before the Bank Holiday Monday we went for a walk to Maulden Woods – me, my husband and our dog. I sometimes go there as the woods back onto my old childhood home, dating from the seventeenth century. I moved there when I was twelve (my sister fourteen) and my parents were custodians of its eccentric character for nearly twenty years. After our walk we decided to stop off in the pub next door to the house, and noticed it had been ‘sold’. We briefly discussed who might have bought it and I reminisced about living there. I said I wished I could look inside and see what had been done to it in the twelve years since my parents moved out.

On Bank Holiday Monday, we decided to go for another walk which ended in a pub, but this time we left the car at home, so we could drink more beer! and headed  across Flitwick woods towards Steppingley and the French Horn, where we were assured of a dog friendly pub and sun bathed beer garden.

The garden was buzzing with people and chat. Our dog paraded around greeting everyone who had turned out to see him (his world view). A family arrived and sat down beside us. They had two little girls, with long blonde hair. The parents, I guessed, were near our age, but then I tend to think I am still in my thirties so make of that what you will. We talked dogs. They had a gorgeous, plump six month old puppy. The owner of the pub, also a dog lover, joined in and we told him we were adopting a rescue dog in a few weeks (we are going to call him Fred).  The first pint of bitter went down in a sunny, doggy haze. Eventually the little girls went with their mother to play in the nearby park. We moved from discussing dogs to where we lived. I joked about being dragged, kicking and screaming, to a village at twelve (from Luton) and being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I cautioned the father that his daughters wouldn’t appreciate village life and he laughed and said, too late, because they had just bought a house in the village of Maulden. The ‘sold’ sign flashed in my mind.

“Not to Holly Cottage, next to the Dog and Badger pub?”

“Yes,” he said, “The offer has just been accepted.”

The hairs on the back of my neck rose, deliciously.

my sister and my dad in Holly Cottage.
my sister and my dad in Holly Cottage.

His two daughters, just like my sister and I, will have the two attic bedrooms tucked under the eaves, impossibly hot in the summer and like ice in the winter. I told him about finding the vast inglenook fireplace behind the Victorian mantelpiece, and the cellar under the kitchen floor, and the death-watch beetles, tapping until dawn, (although I left out the flying ants swarming in the lounge each summer, and the fat, buzzing May bugs that invaded the bathroom in the attic). We mentally walked through the house together and I pointed out all the things my parents had added – like the huge bathroom on the first floor, with the tub in the centre of the room, and the wrap around conservatory.  We parted, swapping phone numbers and a promise that my parents (and me) get a visit when they’ve moved in, which I know will mean as much, if not more, to them. Holly Cottage was our last family home before my sister and I left to make our own lives.

I guess, in hindsight, and without the soft haze of beer, I can explain it away. If I hadn’t visited the pub next to my old house the day before, I wouldn’t have seen the ‘sold’ sign and we probably wouldn’t have discussed living in a village at all – my unconscious mind no doubt prompted me to start this particular conversation.

Or I can choose to see it as a wave of seriality, caused by unknown forces from somewhere beyond the constraints of the here and

outside Holly Cottage. my husband, daughter and me (pregnant with my son) in 1995.
Outside Holly Cottage. My husband, daughter and me (pregnant with our son) in 1995.

now. I didn’t tell him that my sister had died five years ago. It was nice to talk about a time when she was fully present, without the complications of sympathy. And who else (except my sister) would want to talk about my childhood home in such detail than the man who has just sunk everything he’s got into it.

As I said, I’m not one for flights of fancy, but maybe there are things that scientific empiricism will never be able to explain … and just maybe what happened on Bank Holiday Monday was a ‘gift’ (an enduring connection between my sister and I) – and a reminder that little black cats and ghosts on the stairs, cannot, and should not, always be explained away.